Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Andrew P. Smith, who has a background in molecular biology, neuroscience and pharmacology, is author of e-books Worlds within Worlds and the novel Noosphere II, which are both available online. He has recently self-published "The Dimensions of Experience: A Natural History of Consciousness" (Xlibris, 2008).
Identifying Anonymous Thoughts
My original review of The Mathematical Universe prompted a reply from a sympathizer with author Mike Hockney's ideas, and I responded to him subsequently. Now two more individuals who are sympathetic with Illuminism have come forward with further response. Both of these authors apparently requested that their names be withheld, so I will just refer to them as Anonymous1 and Anonymous2, or A1 and A2.
Before replying to their specific comments, I want to say I appreciate their feedback. Both of them are very polite, to a fault, which provides, shall we just say, a change of pace. And I also want to emphasize that I agree with some of what both of them say, though I will naturally focus here on our disagreements. I won't respond to every point they make at this time, but just what I believe are the key ones.
I begin with A1. After some background, s/he states:
Firstly I'd like to reemphasize the fact that there have been many books in which this TOE has been presented, so my initial response to your review was that it is a little unfair to criticize the theory based upon your limited understanding of it. What you've read in the Mathematical universe is but the tip of the iceberg of an extensive and rigorous presentation of a theory.
I appreciate that, but even a severely abridged version of the theory should not have errors of the kind I have pointed out. (Particularly when Hockney says at various points, "it really is that simple.") I'm pretty sure, for example, that the main justification for the monad view is based on a combination of Euler's equation and the PSR, and both you and A2 imply this in your replies to me. If there were some other critical argument involved, surely Hockney would have at least alluded to it. He did say that he purposely avoided presenting much math, but unless you have a mathematical proof for the existence of these monadsand I don't mean just Euler's formulaI can't see that any amount of math would address what I described as conceptual and technical problems with the view.
The same regarding my criticisms of how these monads are supposed to generate space-time. As I emphasized to Pedro, there are apparent to me serious logical fallacies in this scheme. I don't see how any amount of extra information can overcome these fallacies, and again, Hockney never states that such missing information is critical to an understanding.
In other words, it should be quite possible to present a simplified form of a theory in a way that doesn't suggest any major flaws or inconsistencies. Very complex scientific theories are routinely described in very simple terms in media stories, let alone in full book form, without leading anyone to believe there are substantial weaknesses in the theory (except those that are described as part of the discussion). I'm not saying, I don't understand the math here, which might have been the case if enough math hadn't been presented. I'm saying, no amount of math alone is going to produce this conclusion.
If I understand correctly your main criticism towards Hockney's argument is that there's an over emphasis on using the PSR in a negative way rather than as a positive. That is, there's a failure on Hockney's part to address the sufficient reason for why monads exist rather than do not exist.
This was one criticism, not the main one. As I explained in my response to Pedro deJesus, I have two major sets of criticisms, the first concerning the view that monads exist with the Euler formula, allowing nothing to be something. The second regards how space-time is derived from these monads. Regarding the first set of criticisms, I have several arguments, some conceptual, some technical, which I provided in my original review of Hockney's book. The overemphasis on using PSR in a negative way was simply one of the conceptual arguments, and certainly not the most important one.
Firstly I'd like to say that fundamentally the rationalist tradition uses deductive reasoning to arrive at a priori conclusions, that has always been the method which rationalists prefer to use, and the reason being is one of epistemological concerns. Truths of reason are deductive, analytic and a priori; truths of fact i.e empirical evidence, is quintessentially inductive, synthetic and a posteriori. The epistemological claim is that the former is superior to the latter in terms of what we deem to be a sure foundation of knowledge. The two however are complementary and should express a certain harmony, but crucially the rationalist proclaims that all synthetic evidence should be used to support a priori truth, not the other way around. Epistemologically this is a valid approach to gaining knowledge, I see no reason why this should be subject to criticism. Granted, there have been a long line of rationalists who've been in error in regards to what a priori truth is, but what Hockney is arguing, is that's because we've strayed from Leibniz's position, that all truth is analytic - mathematical. The claim is being made that there has in fact existed such a group of rationalists who haven't strayed from this line of thought, but that said-group have been secretly developing this line of reasoning since Leibniz's death. Whether or not you believe that claim is down to your own discretion, I personally see no sufficient reason to place major doubt on this claim judging by the total works that have been put forth over the last 4 years.
You say, "crucially the rationalist proclaims that all synthetic evidence should be used to support a priori truth, not the other way around." I can't agree with this as an inviolable rule. In the first place, Illuminists constantly go beyond this. The monad theory is not supported by any synthetic evidence, and Hockney even claims that it can't be and shouldn't be. In the second place, as you yourself concede, reason is sometimes in error. Once you admit this, I think you lose credibility in making an absolute statement such as reason always has precedence. Reason once said that the earth was the center of the universe, that all species were created at the same time, that humans were made in the image of their Creator, and so on. Reason as you well know was long used to prove the existence of a God you deny.
As far as mathematical proofs are concerned, I don't disagree (actually I do to some extent, but for the purposes of this discussion I will grant you and him this). But as I emphasized in my original view, you simply cannot build an entire theory of existence on math alone. At some point, you have to bring in other forms of reasoning (thus getting into the first set of criticisms I have of Hockney), and in addition you must deal with the world as we sense it (hence my second set of criticisms).
So yes, Euler's formula can be understood to equate something with nothing in a purely mathematical sense. I simply don't see that that leads us with absolute confidence to the notion that this is reflected in the notion of monads. Maybe this leads to a permanent impasse between us. Maybe there is no way we can agree. At the end of the day, maybe I just can't believe that strongly that reason can prove something like this.
One thing that Illuminists might do to aid in convincing people like me, though, is provide other examples of where PSR, or something similar, led to a belief in something that at the time was at odds with the scientific or prevailing academic view, and was ultimately vindicated. Certainly mathematics itself has, modern physics has numerous examples of this. But again, the monad scheme does not hinge just on pure math. It requires a belief in the validity of the PSR, and as far as l know, science has never employed this as a tool to predict the existence of something that was later verified in science's own terms.
After noting some flaws in Leibniz's monadology, you continue:
The question instantly arises, "Who or what caused God?". According to the Monadology we cannot ascertain that reason until we develop the language to conceptualize it, but the fact that thing's *do* exist naturally implies that there is a cause, and it is perfectly rational to make that assumption, for if rationalism itself is irrational, then this throws serious doubt into mans search for knowledge and is completely at odds with mathematics.
I will respond to this in a moment, but moving on:
The difference between Gödel and Hockney is that Hockney claims to have discovered a complete monolithic system of mathematics which is free from the glaring inconsistencies rampant amongst the formalist approaches to mathematical truth. That system is based on Euler's formula, which according to Hockney fulfills the requirements of the PSR, precisely because it doesn't privilege any number over another. In fact Hockney goes so far as to say that Euler's formula IS the PSR expressed as a mathematical tautology.
Really? Has he proven Godel wrong? Why has this not created a major stir in the mathematical community?
As far as I can see, all he has done in his book is make a series of claims, some of them very intriguing, but most of them unsubstantiated. For example, he says imaginary numbers are associated with time, but he doesn't provide anything to back this up. He claims he understands time, but provides no detail of his understanding. How would this solve some major paradoxes or issues associated with time? Beyond a very brief discussion of the tensed and tenseless views, he doesn't say.
To be fair, this is the kind of information that you might have been alluding to is found in other books. On the other hand, his credibility with me here is not that great. He claims to understand the wave-particle relationship, but his solution, as I said in the review, is not original, and rejected by the great majority of physicists. He claims to have solved the mind-body problem, but he most definitely has not. When someone makes a series of claims, some of which are quite apparently false, one naturally takes less seriously claims for which not enough detail is provided to evaluate them.
Replace God with Euler's formula in Leibniz's Monadology and essentially you have arrived at ontological mathematics as the true charictaristica universalis. Nothing creates Euler's formula, it is eternal and unchanging, it is unequivocally the only contender for the status of an immutable Platonic form. All of this can be worked out with deductive reasoning, and without formal proof. It is true but unprovable, and accessible only to intuition and reason. You've objected that this perhaps might be the case, but it is of no use if we cannot set out and apply that knowledge to the world of phenomena around us. To this point i shall return later on, I have my own ideas about how we can utilize this knowledge, but for now I will say that it seems a little short sighted to make such a criticism, as this is literally the first time in history anyone has suggested that Euler's formula is the fundamental principal of nature; it is an untapped resource, so to speak.
Euler's formula might or might not be the only contender for an immutable Platonic form, but this assumes there is such a form. All Hockney actually knows is that this is a remarkable equation. When you start making statements that something is true but unprovable, I think you are taking advantage of Godel as a cover. You can say something you happen to believe in is true, but when asked for proof, reply it can't be provable. I know some things from my own experience to be trueI don't just meant true for me, but in a universal sensebut I also know that I can't prove these things to anyone else, so I simply don't insert these truths into the social discourse.
Your other objection is that mathematical knowledge such as Euler's formula could just be a product of our mental processes, as could be reason. Therefore, reason is no different to empirical evidence in this regard and shouldn't be elevated above it. Again, if we take into account Godel's incompleteness theorem we can deduce that you're wrong. If one asserts that no knowledge is possible then that violates the law of non contradiction. Then if one say's that knowledge is purely justified using axioms and formal logic then there will always be a statement within that system that is true but unprovable, ergo knowledge must be innate and platonic. There must be a foundation of knowledge, a priori, otherwise nothing is true. Just because we discover mathematical truths, doesn't mean that that knowledge is not innate."
Read the first two sentences of this passage again. You subtly conflate mathematical knowledge with reason, or at least bring them both into the argument. Then you bring in Godel, which is only relevant to math. In line with what I said above, I will set aside math here, and for the sake of the discussion allow that it may not just be a product of our mental processes. In fact, as far as I know, Lakoff has not discussed math at all. But as I emphasized above, some reason is not mathematical, or purely mathematical, and it seems very clear to me that it is a product of mental processes. I don't see how this is inconsistent with Godel. Specifically, this view of Lakoff's does not challenge the notion that there are no mathematical problems undecidable by the human mind, and certainly does not imply that reason is utterly irrational.
But it does challenge the PSR. Our minds evolved in a manner such that we assume everything has a reason for existing. This had survival value. If one of our ancestors saw movement in the tall grass, there had to be a reason, and maybe that reason was the presence of a predator or prey. But just because our minds evolved in this manner (and remember, Hockney is not challenging evolutionary theory as far as l can tell; he seems to accept it) does not mean that we can use this reason as a tool to understanding our origins. Reason as it evolved may not be capable of doing this. It surely has limits, and it seems foolish to me, given these limits, to rely solely on reason, rather then testing it, in a mutual process, with empirical observations.
There's no definitive empirical proof of the nonexistence of free will, so really it is in our own best interest to hold that there is free will.
I'm going to jump the shark here and not get into discussions about whether free will has been proven or not. I will just say that I have for a very long time and continue to be astonished that people believe they have free will. Anyone who observes himself carefully and persistently over timea practice, unfortunately, that is far, far, far more difficult than developing a new scientific or philosophical theoryI submit will confirm that he doesn't. It is frankly a brutally obvious fact to me, something that punches me in the gut again and again and again. (Do you think I'm responding to you freely now? This response results from a large number of causes, a great many of which I'm aware of, some of which I'm probably not). I did not always engage in this practice, and I do understand the illusion of free will. But I continue to be astonished at the depth of denial most people are innot to mention the misunderstandings associated with what not having free will really means.
In any case, this to me is a side issue. The truth of Illuminism does not hinge on it as far as I can see. In his reply to methough you may beg to differPedro as much as admitted that changes in the monads are in fact caused.
I think there has been some confusion on your part Mr Smith equating Hockney's rhetorical passion over free will with an irrational argument.
Well, to be clear, when I described Hockney as passionate, it was not in the context of free will. My point was that reason and passion are closely entwined. We know that people with damage to certain emotional centers of the brain have problems with reasoning (more empirical evidence). And as I said in the passage when I discussed Hockney's passion, it's emotion, not reason, that motivates us to care about whatever reason reveals to us.
I did not intend to imply that because Hockney was passionate his reason was faulty (though I did say in my response to Pedro that I felt strong passion makes it more difficult for someone to change his views). I just meant that reason can only do so much. Again, emotion evolved in a context of survival. It provided motivation to behave in certain ways. Reason is not free from this. That's not to say that emotion necessarily always corrupts reason, but only that reason never proceeds independently of it.
Now I turn to A2. This author makes some criticisms of science with which I'm substantially in agreement. I will just address two points here.
First, you quote Leibniz's mill argument (also found in Hockney's book), and say:
Mind, as a unity, is not reducible to aggregates. It can't be 'found' in matter any more than the mind of a player can be found in his character in an MMORPG game.
This anticipates John Searle's Chinese Room argument, and like it, it's a strong claim against consciousness, in the hard problem sense (though both of these philosophers made other, somewhat different claims for it, some of which I will get to in a moment). Science has no answer to the hard problem, that is, how unconscious entities can interact to result in consciousness. I have no quarrel with the Illuminists in this regard. In fact, I'm a very strong sympathizer with the panpsychist view, though not in the form proposed by Hockney.
But here's the problem for Hockney. He says the monads are originally unconscious. I take this to mean they have no qualia, and that therefore the hard problem is not an issue. From this it follows, first, that Leibniz's objections are irrelevant. If you take the hard problem out of the discussion, science can explain how mind emerges from simpler forms of existence. In a very general sense, it's complexity theory, and lifeforms have been built up in this manner. For example individual atoms or small molecules generally lack the property to catalyze the transformation of one molecule into another, but large protein molecules composed of these atoms and molecules can. Where did catalysis come from? A particular kind of organization of non-catalytic molecules. Individual nucleotides can't code for information, but DNA can. Where did the information come from? A particular kind of organization of non-informative molecules. Large ensembles of neurons in the brain can code for another kind of information that individual neurons can't, and so on.
So many highly complex propertiesin fact, nearly all of thememerge from the interaction of lifeforms or other simple entities that do not have these properties. A detailed discussion of how mind-like properties evolved that I like very much is found in Terence Deacon's book Incomplete Nature. I do disagree with his views on consciousness, but for the rest I'm in basic agreement. That is to say, he has not provided proof that life evolved in the manner he describes, but he has certainly provided what I consider a plausible scenario.
Now to emphasize again, you can't explain qualia in this way. I very much agree with Illuminists in this regard. But this leads to the second problem for Hockney. As I pointed out in my original review of his book, his theory does not explain how qualia emerge. The monads originally are unconscious. He says that consciousness emerges when the monads are "filtered" through space-time, slowing down the processing. He apparently bases this on the observation that human reflective consciousness is relatively slow.
But other forms of consciousness, that might not be reflective, may be quite fast. So as I discussed in my original review, while slowing down might be associated with reflective consciousness, it does not explain other forms of consciousness, which involve qualia. Moreover, and this is the heart of the problem, even if some change in the speed of processing were associated with qualia, nowhere does Hockney explain how this would happen. His theory is just as devoid of any explanation for the hard problem as the scientific view is. It is completely opaque on how we go from the processing of Euler's formula to conscious experience. To say that consciousness emerges from slowing down processing is no more insightful than the scientific view that consciousness emerges from the information in large networks of neurons (and the latter view, while not explaining qualia, does illuminate other phenomena to a much greater degree I would say than Hockney's view does).
The second point I want to address regards the limitations of science. You say:
Science is good as producing models that describe specific aspects of reality, but in itself, it does not offer any plausible framework for a theory of everything. They deny mind can have an effective power, and reduce it to epiphenomenon, because they cannot measure and quantify private thoughts and experiences. Because it's not available to 'public perception' , they deny mind, although each of them is, fundamentally, a mind.
Materialism, taken to its logical conclusion, leads to relativism and nihilism: in denying innate ideas, we can picture the following situation: what is the difference between someone who holds a true opinion, and someone who holds a false one? Merely the difference in random configurations of atoms in their brains. But how do we know which is true and which is false? By the configuration of atoms in our brain. Circular.
You repeat the Illuminist claim that science "does not offer any plausible framework for a theory of everything." As I emphasized in my original review, I certainly agree that science has not solved the origin problem, of something from nothing, which of course the Euler monad is designed to do. But the rest of the framework, beginning with material particles and continuing up to our own speciesexcept for the qualia problemI think is quite sound. And again, as I discussed in my original review, Hockney de facto seems to agree, since he has basically adopted this view wholesale.
What about the argument that materialism can't explain the difference between a true thought and a false one? This may be correct regarding absolute truth and falsehood. But different material configurations can explain relative truths, what Hockney derides as usefulness. Certain configurations in the brain become associated with certain phenomena or objects that occur or are perceived to occur in the external world. In this limited sense, they have a truth to them. They provide a signal of the presence of something as opposed to its absence, or the presence of something else. Again, I refer those interested to Deacon.
But now let's return to the question of absolute truths. Clearly you and other Illuminist sympathizers believe Hockney's theory of Euler monads is true in some kind of absolute sense. You believe that every mathematical equation is eternally true, I think. Is not the experience of that belief associated with some kind of pattern of activity in the brain? I'm not asking you to accept that some pattern in the brain is identical to the experience of truth, or even that it causes this experienceonly that it is reliably associated with it. I think based on what neuroscience has revealed about the brain so far, this is pretty hard to deny. In fact, Hockney himself implies this when he argues that there are different types of people, some of which are more open to his kind of beliefs than are others. These types of people, though not nearly as clear-cut as a reader might infer from his description of them, are distinguished by different types of brains. Some brains simply experience reason differentlyas more truthfulfrom others.
But how can such a relationship exist, if the passage of yours I quoted above is correct? One way to explain this is by appealing to the evolutionary history of the brain. Certain patterns of activity became reliably associated with certain relationships. These relationships are built up, from very simple onesthe pattern for the color blue always occurs when we look at the sky in certain kinds of weatherto far more complex ones, even including mathematical equations.
The problem for you with this explanation is that it suggests that your experience of truth, of knowing for certain, is in fact a relative, not an absolute, matter. It's based on the notion that reason emerged as a survival tool during the evolutionary history of a brain developing with a body. It's purpose was not to reveal absolute truth, but to reliably indicate the occurrence of salient events. We have eventually been able to turn this capacity to questions of our origins, but given the original purpose, it's not really surprising that it may not be infallible.
But what is the alternative? You want to argue that there are eternal truths existing beyond space and time. But the problem then becomes how creatures existing in space and time, and utterly dependent on that world for communicating with others, can experience those truths. There is a gap between the space-time world and anything that is said to be eternal.
I understand that Hockney believes he has explained this gap in terms of the Fourier transform, the Euler equation becoming various sine and cosine waves. The eternal monad mind and the space-time experience are just different expressions of the same underlying reality, so to speak. What he doesn't seem to get is that it isn't enough to show that a duality can be explained mathematically by a unity. You still have to explain people's actual experience. People's experience changes. Hockney tries to incorporate this into his theory of reincarnation. But this means that the Euler equation must also change. If space-time and the Euler formula represent the same underling reality, and space-time experience changes, so must the Euler output. This means it's no longer possible for the Euler formula to balance to zero.
In fact, if you follow Hockney's reasoning to its logical conclusion, it seems to me that all of our minds, as they exist right nowwith all the various thoughts, ideas, memories, emotions, sensations, etc., going through our mindsbeing unextended, should have existed eternally as monads. There should be no need to postulate initial unconscious monads. The original monads should have been, or included, conscious minds, and indeed all our minds as they exist right now (or one minute ago, or yesterday, or last year, and so on). I as I exist right now have always existed, and so do you, and everyone else. There are an infinite number of monads comprising Andy Smith at every moment (however that is to be defined) of his life, and the same for Mike Hockney (even if he did die, as claimed on the internet), and everyone else. Because by the PSR, there is no reason why they should not exist. They are all unextended, so zero-dimensional monads.
And yet Hockney thinks that the multiverse theory is crazy?
What I'm getting here is that there a paradox, and the Illuminist view doesn't solve it any better than science does. The reason it doesn't solve it is because, despite Hockney's claim that he explains how the space-time phenomenal world is related to the eternal monad mind, he can't. There is a gap here that reason can't cross. And all or most of the more specific criticisms I made of Hockney's view of the space-time relationship, the second set of criticisms, reflect this.
Scientists try to use their senses to understand something that seems to be beyond our senses. They have so far failed, as shown by the hard problem of consciousness. Hockney tries to use reason to understand this. He, too, fails. As I said before, the main difference I see between scientists and Hockney is the former are generally a little humbler, a little more aware of what they don't know.
One of Hockney's central mistakes, I would say, is that he believes that reason is the highest or purest form of knowledge available to human beings. It isn't. There is a higher form of conscious experience, and the fact that it is frequently misunderstood, the subject of false claims, and on and on and on, does not mean that such a consciousness is not available to human beings. Hockney does mention mystical knowledge, but he doesn't seem to have experienced it or understand it (putting him in the same boat with a great many other people who have claimed to experience it). I don't assert that such knowledge is the answer to all questions of existence, but one certainly can't devise a complete theory of everything without recognizing it. In fact, recognizing it implies that all theoriesintellectual maps of existencewill be incomplete.
Now there are many philosophers who dispute that there is a higher consciousness in this sense. In an article posted here a little over a year ago, Derrida and Wilber at the Crossroads of Metyaphysics, Greg Desilet makes this argument, but in so doing he argues against any kind of absolute, including, if I understand him correctly, the kind Illuminism proposes. In any case, he has a far stronger background in philosophy than I do, and I would certainly welcome his input to this discussion.
Illuminating the Illuminati
In closing, I have a question for both authors and for the Illuminati in general. You state that some of these claims are the product of four years of work, and that sixty books and over two millions words on the internet support the project. Has any of this been published in scholarly journals, subjected to peer review? If it has, I would appreciate some direction to these articles. If it hasn't, why not?
Please don't reply it's because scientists are obsessed with empiricism, and biased against rationalism. The world's current academic community is enormous and extremely diverse. There are some scientists, philosophers and mathematicians out there who can be persuaded of almost anything. Pedro referred to Rupert Sheldrake briefly. While Sheldrake does not provide the support for aspects of Illuminism that Pedro seems to think he does, Sheldrake is an example of a maverick scientist who is willing to challenge not merely scientific mainstream ideas, but the entire premises of science to some extent. As for academic philosophers, well, you know the old saying, there is no idea so outrageous that some philosopher can't be found to support it.
Please also don't reply it's because Illuminism is a secret society. Why should knowledge that is as profound as you claim be a secret? If it were the kind of knowledge that comes from spiritual practices, I could understand. If you don't engage in these practices, you can't understand this knowledge (apparently not being able to understand that we lack free will is an excellent example of this ignorance). But mathematics and reason are open to everyone. While there is considerable variation in how well individuals understand and can use these processes, there are large numbers of academics who are certainly qualified to follow your ideas. Just at this site we apparently have at least two mathematicians, Elliot Benjamin and Peter Collins, who have commented briefly on Illuminist ideas.
Because both of you have chosen to reply to me anonymously, it seems that there may some other motive involved. After all, the academic community generally does not approve of or permit anonymous publications. Perhaps this makes it impossible for you to publish in this manner? If this is the case, or whatever the case is, I would appreciate it if you could just provide some explanation of why you must remain anonymous. I understand that the Illuminati include political change in their program, perhaps even regard themselves as hiding from someone or some organization, but whatever is going on, I would appreciate some explanation. Surely you must understand the conflict between wanting to spread certain ideas, on the one hand, and being unwilling to identify yourselves as the proponents of these ideas, on the other.